The RECOVEU project was a three-year education initiative funded under the European Union (EU) Grundtvig Lifelong Learning Programme1, which was completed in December 2016. The aim of RECOVEU was to develop innovative learning activities to assist adults in addiction recovery to prepare for, and succeed in, college or university across the EU as well as starting the conversation about recovery capital. Set up in 2014, its partners comprised Soilse (Ireland), Staffordshire University (UK), the Centre for the Advancement of Research and Development in Educational Technology (CARDET-Cyprus), St Dimitrie Basarabov Program (Romania) and the Cooperativa Sociale San Saturnino Onlus (SANSET-Italy).
At the outset, a policy and practice review was carried out in each of the partner countries. This review found:
- There was a lack of consensus on the treatment of addiction and the concept of recovery across the partner countries.
- There were few specific opportunities for adults in recovery to engage with employability programmes in the five partner countries.
- There was no designated access to learning programmes designed specifically for adults in recovery and cognisant of the issues and barriers they face.
- There were differences among partner countries, and often a lack of recognition, of the way in which non-medicalised and psychosocial interventions can contribute to treatment, the development of social capital, and social reintegration of the recovered individual.
Access to Learning course
RECOVEU created a dialogue among educators, people in recovery and drug service providers that led to the development of an asset-based Access to Learning course and a range of supporting material (course pack, facilitators’ pack and evaluation toolkit). Access to Learning is a sample course spread over 20 hours that demonstrates some of the main learning, insights and opportunities that must be considered to ensure any educational courses designed in the future meet the needs of those in recovery from addiction.
To develop the Access to Learning course the project involved convening 20 focus groups, which took place across the five partner countries. A total of 92 people took part in these focus groups, comprising 44 service users and 48 service providers. One-quarter of the service users (25%) and almost two-thirds (60%) of service providers were female. The data from the focus groups were transcribed, coded and thematically analysed to first identify the barriers to learning and then determine what the learning modules should contain. The barriers to accessing education programmes cited by focus group members were money, childcare, equipment, filling in forms, previous convictions, lack of ID (identity papers) and driving licences, homelessness and lack of study space.
In deciding what the modules should contain, the aim was not to repeat the failures of other programmes but to recognise that learning falls within three dimensions: the cognitive dimension of knowledge and skills, the emotional dimension of feelings and motivation, and the social dimension of communication and cooperation. This implied two learning processes: an internal psychological process and an external interaction process. It was significant that many of the service users in the focus groups grew up in systems that prioritised cognitive learning over emotional and social learning. Many of them were ambivalent about academic learning; some felt they did not fit into academic settings and others either were early school-leavers or had negative school experiences. Many were also multiply disadvantaged and saw little value in education as a means to social inclusion.
Following analysis of the focus group data, it was agreed to develop five modules for the course.
Module 1: Recovery and Resilience is an overarching module. It comprises:
- Online learning to create discussion of addiction and recovery
- Creation of a storyboard by each participant to show their addiction history
- Exploration of the themes of recovery capital, recovery principles and resilience
- An introduction to SMART goal techniques – specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-related
- Discussion of the language of recovery
Module 2: Recovery and Learning to Learn goes beyond the predictable study skills response and provides the recovering learner with insights into their own learning experiences, styles and aptitudes. It includes:
- A do’s and don’ts audit
- Use of mind maps
- Kolb’s model2 on reflective learning and the use of experiential learning for the recovering person
- Challenges to learners in recovery
- An examination of orientation approaches for access to learning
Module 3: Recovery and Digital Learning recognises the digital divide where children and teenagers are adept at using communications technology but older people in general are reluctant to engage. Participants explore online collaborative learning, knowledge sharing and blended learning, as well as face-to-face learning supported by digital skills. This module highlights that an ability to engage with online learning is vital for access to educational courses, social media, recovery websites, online meetings, and online information. Digital skills are also necessary for access to the world of work.
Module 4: Recovery and Community explores how recovery capital is generated in community settings and, by extension, educational locations. It looks at the usefulness of personal boundaries and the supportive role that trained recovery coaches can play to assist others in achieving sustained recovery.
Module 5: Recovery and Employability looks at both the barriers to work and the requirements for employment (how to find a job, put together a CV, apply for jobs, and develop interview skills). The module also examines recovery enterprises that are notable providers of work in the US and some European countries for people in recovery.
RECOVEU also introduced policy-makers, educators, service providers and recovering addicts to the concept of recovery capital. Recovery capital is the sum of resources necessary to initiate and sustain recovery from substance misuse.3 Recovery capital comprises four elements: physical, human, social, and cultural. Physical capital refers to savings, income, accommodation, and so on; human capital means health and functioning; social capital means creating new networks and supports; cultural capital means developing new attitudes, beliefs and values. Taking part in adult learning helps people in recovery to obtain these benefits.
In conclusion, the benefit of the RECOVEU initiative is that it has identified the learning needs of those in recovery through a structured process. The Access to Learning course meets not only the educational needs of people in recovery but also enables them to initiate and sustain their recovery, maintain an independent and drug-free lifestyle, take part fully in their communities, and reintegrate with their families. The course is active in Soilse, the Drug Rehabilitation Programme in Dublin, and several other treatment centres around Ireland, where Phase II of the rollout is now in train.
Further information on RECOVEU, including an e-learning platform and resources on adult education and addiction recovery, can be found at www.recoveu.org.
1 For more information about the European Union Grundtvig Lifelong Learning Programme, please visit http://ec.europa.eu/education/lifelong-learning-programme_en
2 Kolb, David A (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
3 Cloud W and Granfield R (2008) Conceptualizing recovery capital: expansion of a theoretical construct. Substance Use and Misuse, 43: 1971‒1986.